Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Review: 'Onward' by Howard Schultz

"Indeed I have given him as a witness to the people,
A leader and commander for the people." -- Isaiah 55:4 (NKJV)

Company founders often have a unique vision of what they are trying to accomplish that's based in a set of values that are deserving of respect. Unless such a vision is experienced, appreciated, and consistently pursued, most organizations lose their way as the power of the vision wanes . . . to be replaced by merely accomplishing various goals that are unconnected to the vision. In the case of Starbucks, Howard Schultz had a life-changing experience in an Italian espresso bar that led to his vision for the company. After Schultz was no longer CEO (called ceo at Starbucks), the vision lost focus and faded in favor of meeting various expansion goals.

When what is now being called "The Great Recession" hit, Starbucks reeled as customers started spending a lot less for the first time. Such a downward spiral is hard to overcome, and Howard Schultz learned that the hard way as he returned to the ceo job.

Onward is the story of how Starbucks revitalized and created a better way to deliver Schultz's vision.

If you have only a casual interest in Starbucks, this story will be too long and detailed for you.

If you are a company leader who is looking to turn around the fortunes of an ailing retail concept, you'll find all of the detail helpful in avoiding pitfalls. Having worked with a number of companies seeking to make such improvements, I was struck that the perspectives and experiences of Mr. Schultz rang very true. Focusing on principles and values in reference to a vision of what should be happening with customers and colleagues really helps in such circumstances because it's easy to be distracted by various cost-cutting and new product programs into doing the wrong things.

The book's main weakness is a lack of cause-and-effect accounting for how much various actions contributed to the turnaround. As a result, the management lessons are highly diluted . . . something that's not good for a cup of coffee or learning from the recounting of a turnaround.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Donald Mitchell. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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